CRYSTAL LAKE – The first opponent the 11U Crystal Lake Bulldogs faced in the MCYSA/USSSA Summer International Championships traveled about 50 miles to get to the tournament. Their second opponent, more than 8,800 miles.
The Bulldogs earned a 15-13 come-from-behind win over Japan in their second game Saturday on the opening day of the tournament.
After falling to the Oak Park Eagles, 5-2, in first game, the Bulldogs’ bats came alive for 12 hits against Japan. In their first year as a true travel baseball organization, the Bulldogs were unfazed by international competition.
“A lot of the guys were thinking it was going to be weird,” pitcher Logan Kirkeeng said.
“But they’re 11, too, so it’s just like another team,” Kirkeeng added.
With the score tied at 13, Casey Hunter had a two-RBI single in the top of the sixth inning to put the Bulldogs up for good.
Hunter, a sixth-grader at Bernotas Middle School, said he wasn’t trying to do too much with one-out and runners on first and second.
“I just laid the bat out there,” Hunter said. “I wasn’t even thinking about anything. I just got a big hit and it turned out we won.”
Matt Moniea came in for Kirkeeng to close out the game, holding the well-hitting Japan scoreless in the bottom sixth for the first time in the game. Moniea, who finished second in the home run derby Thursday, added an RBI triple in the top third to help keep pace with Japan after it struck for four runs in the bottom second.
Third baseman Matt Braman also had an RBI triple, coming in the second inning, and added another RBI on a single in the fourth inning.
11U coach Ron Kirkeeng said his team – who sit in second place in Pool A – had been waiting to play in the local tournament all season long, and were especially looking forward to facing Japan.
The players said that hearing a different language in the middle of the game was the most notable difference, but Ron Kirkeeng noticed some difference in the play between the international and domestic teams.
“The discipline the Japanese players have is a little different than some of the American teams,” Ron Kirkeeng said. “You can tell they work on the fundamentals long and hard to get ready for the games.”
In the 15U tournament, McHenry County Hurricanes coach Brian Bright noticed a difference when his team played Puerto Rico.
In his first year as coach of the Hurricanes, Bright said it’s the energy they bring to the game.
“It’s always fun playing international teams,” Bright said. “They’re always more lively, and that brings more energy out of us.”
The 15U Hurricanes fell in two close games on the first day of the 15U tournament, falling 7-6 to the Wisconsin Wildcats, and 2-1 to the Puerto Rico Cardenales.
On the opening night, all of the teams had a police escort onto the field for the 15U opening ceremonies, with the national anthems for Japan, Brazil, Puerto Rico and America being played for all the countries represented in the tournament.